Imagine it’s 400 years ago and you’re sick… turns out it’s the same thing that just killed your sister and her youngest son.
Fortunately, the Doctor knows exactly what to do. It’s something they’ve been doing for years, centuries actually. They even tried it on your family before they lost the battle…
He looks at you with stern confidence and gives you the “prescription:” Bloodletting.
That’s right, bloodletting.
It’s exactly how is sounds – patients were pricked, sliced, scraped, and cut to allow blood out of the body to “cure” diseases. That sounds crazy right?!
But at the time, bloodletting was commonly used to treat tons of conditions like seizures, headaches, fevers, pneumonia, and to lessen any pain in the body. This practice actually killed people!
The use of bloodletting was pervasive until studies by scientists and doctors like Pasteur, Koch, and Virchow came along and showed the benefits of other treatment methods.
Now, we look at bloodletting like something crazy we used to do before we “knew better.”
But where might history be repeating itself?
Are there things we do today that someday will seem “crazy,” just like bloodletting?
I look at treating autoimmune disease with long-term use of powerful immune suppressing drugs (which have a ridiculous list of side effects such as infection, cancer, cardiovascular disease, bone disease) like bloodletting.
For those that know me, reversing autoimmune disease is a passion project of mine. Not only did it almost kill me 7 years ago… but it actually killed my Mom back in 2005.
I firmly believe treating autoimmune disease with strong immune suppressing drugs will fall away to better treatment as our researchers continue to advance our knowledge and medical practices. We’re getting closer to figuring out how to reverse autoimmune disease altogether… and one day we’ll look at drugs that turn off the immune system as a crazy thing “before we knew better.”
We Used to Think Autoimmune Disease Wasn’t Reversible…
Autoimmune disease used to be viewed as a permanent condition.
When autoimmune conditions were first recognized over a hundred years ago, we thought it had everything to do with non-self antigens (like virus or bacterial infections). In fact, the condition was originally thought to be an infectious disease explained by the “Molecular Mimicry” theory, in which outside bacteria and viruses invade our body and look so similar to our own healthy tissue that the immune system wages war on both. It was thought to be the worst kind of mistaken identity…
The “Molecular Mimicry” theory goes something like this:
1. A non-self antigen enters the body
2. The immune system mounts an attack against it, producing antibodies
3, The non-self antigen looks so similar to specific proteins in the body that it causes a cross-reaction to healthy tissue
4. The immune system attacks the non-self antigen AND its own tissue from that point forward
It’s important to point out that in this model, even if the non-self antigen (bacteria or virus) triggering the attack is removed, the autoimmunity never turns off. So, the body continues to produce antibodies and attack healthy tissue even though the initial trigger is gone.
The other part of the puzzle was the “Bystander Effect.”  This theory suggests that non-self antigens come into our body and damage healthy tissues during active infection, exposing it to the immune system. The body sees these newly exposed areas as “non-self,” leading to the development of immune attacks against that tissue.
The “Bystander Effect” theory goes something like this:
1. A non-self antigen enters the body
2. The non-self antigen damages healthy tissue in the body
3. The damage exposes parts of the healthy tissue that shouldn’t be exposed
4. The body attacks the newly exposed areas as if they are not self
Again, with this model, even if the bacteria, virus, or gluten that damaged the tissue is removed, the autoimmunity never turns off. So, the body continues to produce antibodies and attack the exposed tissue even though the initial trigger that damaged it is gone.
Now, a Doctor Specializing in Celiac Disease Research Uncovered a Different Story…
Researcher Alessio Fasano, M.D., has been on the forefront of recent autoimmune and Celiac disease research. In 2011, he published a paper, titled “Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases,” introducing a new theory that suggests prevention and reversal of autoimmune disease is possible.
He presents the idea that three pre-existing conditions must all exist together in order for autoimmune diseases to develop.  They are:
1. A genetic predisposition to autoimmunity
2. An exposure to the environmental trigger
3. Increased Intestinal Permeability (Leaky Gut)
Step 1: Our Genetics Lead to Autoimmunity
We’re all born with a set of genes, which are handed down to us from our parents.
Genes are what dictate processes in our bodies, control our cells, and provide the blueprints for building new things (like proteins). Now, before we go further it’s important to note: not all the genes we have are expressed. Just tuck that thought away for now. What researchers are now discovering is that certain genes are linked to certain autoimmune disorders.
For example: if you have gene XYZ, then you have a higher likelihood, or greater risk, for developing autoimmune disorder ABC. More and more researchers are starting to identify some of these genes.
In the case of Celiac disease, the genes are HLA DQ2/DQ8. In Rheumatoid Arthritis they are looking at HLA-DRB1*0401 in mice. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis was associated with various HLA genes that differed in populations.  Caucasian populations were associated with DR3, DR5, DQ7, DQB1*03, DQw7 or DRB1*04-DQB1*0301 haplotype. Japanese populations were associated with DRB4*0101, HLA-A2 and DRw53. In Chinese studies, associations with DRw9 were observed. Another inflammatory joint disease, Ankylosing spondylitis is associated with HLA-B27. 
The exact details of how each variation affects the autoimmune development process is not fully understood. The real question is: what turns these genetics on?
Step 2: The Environment Triggers That Turn on Autoimmunity
We now know that something has to trigger these specific genes for autoimmunity to occur… typically something foreign in the environment.
One key study puts it this way:
“It does appear that a close interplay between environmental triggers and genetic factors is responsible for the loss of immunological tolerance and autoimmunities. [2, 3] (Figure 1) Therefore, in relation to the role of heritability in autoimmunity, genome-wide association studies reported that genetics only accounted for a minority of autoimmunity cases, and in many cases disease discordance exists in monozygotic twins.  For this reason, research and publications dedicated to environmental factors in autoimmunity have grown by an average of 7% every year since 1997.” 
We see this when looking at identical twins where one gets the disease and the other doesn’t. They share the exact same genetic code, so they each have the genes that predispose them. But what makes these genes do what they do?
Turns out environmental factors have a huge role in what genes get expressed.
It’s like turning on a light switch.
Your genes are like a bunch of light switches in your house, but they aren’t all on – they are only on where you need them.
So, researchers are beginning to look at the environmental triggers that “turn on” these autoimmune genetic light switches.
In Celiac disease, the environmental trigger is gluten. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, there is a strong correlation between cigarette smoke and the onset of diseases. Crystalline silica (quartz) contributes to the development of several systemic autoimmune diseases, including RA and systemic sclerosis.  Epstein-Barr Virus may be related to the development of MS.
How exactly these triggers work is also not fully understood. It’s not clear if they directly act on genes or if they are a catalyst in a series of events that leads to changes in gene expression. But we are starting to see something tying them all together.
Step 3: Leaky Gut – The Beginning of Autoimmune Disease
Right now, we don’t know what we don’t know about autoimmune disease…
Dr. Fasano’s work suggests that the environmental triggers have to interact with specific genes to turn them on… but how do they meet?
Turns out it’s in the gut.
In fact, Dr. Fasano’s work would suggest that we can’t have autoimmune disease at all without first experiencing leaky gut. So, if that was the case, we should be able to test for and find leaky gut in those people with autoimmune disease… which is exactly what the research is finding.
Check out this data composed by Dr. Mat Lalonde as part of his “Science of Nutrition” material… in the case of these 30 autoimmune diseases, when they tested for leaky gut in patients diagnosed with the condition, they found it:
Excuse Me, but Your Guts Are Leaking…
When your gut is leaking, those environmental triggers start to interact directly with your immune system… and your genetics.
Your gut is a hollow tube that is meant to keep the stuff that is outside your body, stuff like toxic food particles, environmental chemicals, and bacterial waste, from getting inside your body.
The tissue serves to selectively allow nutrients and certain molecules through the barrier and into your body. But not everything can or should pass through.
When that delicate gut tissue starts to break down (albeit from any or all of the aforementioned reasons), all that bad stuff is then able to leak through your digestive tract and into your body!
Once inside, these foreign particles travel to different areas of your body and trigger an immune response, promoting inflammation and jump-starting the development of chronic disease. Instead of keeping the bad stuff out, the delicate lining of your intestine is letting all the bad stuff in, and your body is breaking down from the inside out.
Theory to Practice – How Autoimmune Disease Happens…
So, right now the current thinking about the development of autoimmune disease goes something like this:
Step 1: Develop leaky gut
Step 2: Have the genes
Step 3: Environmental trigger turns on the genes
So… is it possible to reverse autoimmune disease?
Even if we don’t know the specifics of genes and environmental triggers in relation to specific autoimmune disease, Dr. Fasano’s groundbreaking work suggests that autoimmunity can be stopped and even reversed by removing the environmental/genetic trigger interaction.
That means we must fix leaky gut.
And as I’m writing this, I’m completely confident my autoimmune disease has been reversed because I healed my gut.
What does that mean?
I’m not saying someone with Celiac disease can ever eat gluten again, or that someone with a completely destroyed thyroid can get off medication.
My definition of reversing autoimmunity is this: turning off the immune attack against the body for good.
In some cases you can’t repair the damage if it’s already gone too far. How long your body has been waging war on its own tissue will determine what “reverse” means to you. If RA goes too far, permanent joint damage can occur. In autoimmune thyroid diseases, the thyroid tissue may be beyond repair. But what if you could stop it before it even got to that point… or before it went too far?
If you or a loved one is struggling with autoimmune disease, you know how crippling it can be when your body attacks itself. Struggling with this type of diagnosis can lead to serious depression… I know, because I’ve been there too. 7 years ago Celiac disease almost killed me.
But what if there was a way to begin to turn off the autoimmune response?
What if there was a way to calm down your immune system and allow it to begin to repair the damage?
Based on the work of Dr. Alessio Fasano, one of the first places to start is your gut… and we’re here to help you.
I’m so grateful to support you in health.
About the author
Jordan Reasoner is a health engineer and author. He was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007 and almost gave up hope when a gluten-free diet didn’t work. Since then, he transformed his health using the SCD Diet and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems.